A Guide To The Different Types Of Counselors
By: Dylan Buckley
Updated May 06, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Rashonda Douthit , LCSW
An important consideration when deciding to participate in therapy is the type of mental health professional to consult. As the field of mental health grows, several different kinds of mental health professionals have emerged. This can be seen as both a positive and negative development. We have more options for mental health treatment than we have ever had before. And, with all of these options, it can make it difficult to understand the differences between these fields, and for us to feel comfortable in the choice that we have made for our mental health treatment. While all clinical professionals meet similar clinical requirements for competency, each mental health profession has its own specific training.
Much like the list of doctors, which can be quite extensive, the list of different counselors and their specialties is quite long as well. We will cover a few major types in this article to give you an overview of who you may expect to see when seeking treatment.
Getting Help Is The Main Focus
Regardless of who you may need to see or what treatment may entail, the key thing that you should focus on is getting the help you need. For some, therapy may seem like an embarrassing or scary thing to pursue. In reality, therapy is one of the mostpowerful toolsto help you tackle any issues in your life and give you access to the resources necessary to create lasting change. You are never alone in your journey, and there are plenty of individuals, both those who help and those who have received help, who are more than willing to assist you with your personal growth and healing.
Clinical Social Worker (CSW)
Clinical social workers receive advanced training in the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness and other behavioral disorders. Clinical social workers have more clinical experience than professional social workers who do not have the clinical designation. Clinical social workers have completed the required master's program in social work (MSW), internship, and postgraduate supervision hours, and have passed a national exam.
Clinical social workers provide mental health services for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders in individuals, families, and groups. Their goal is to enhance and maintain their patients' physical, psychological, and social function. Clinical social workers must have a master's or doctorate degree in social work, with an emphasis on clinical experience. They must undergo a supervised clinical field internship and have at least 2 years of postgraduate supervised clinical social work employment.
Clinical social workers are approved providers in most care plans and practice in many different settings.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) Or Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
A mental health counselor is a counselor whose education is geared specifically toward clinical assessment, treatment, and psychotherapy. Mental health counselors receive training in mental illness, psychotherapy, and clinical intervention services. A licensed mental health counselor is required to complete a master's program, internship, and postgraduate supervision hours. They are also required to pass a licensing exam.
Clinical mental health counseling is a distinct profession with national standards for education, training, and clinical practice. Clinical mental health counselors are highly-skilled professionals who provide flexible, consumer-oriented therapy. They combine traditional psychotherapy with a practical, problem-solving approach that creates a dynamic and efficient path for change and problem resolution.
Clinical mental health counselors offer a full range of services, including:
- Assessment and diagnosis. What are the issues that you are presenting, and what is the recommended course of treatment?
- Treatment planning and utilization review
- Brief and solution-focused therapy
- Alcoholism and substance abuse treatment
- Psychoeducational and prevention programs
- Crisis management
In today's environment, clinical mental health counselors are uniquely qualified to meet the challenges of providing high-quality care in a cost-effective manner. CMHCs have a foundational skill set that is distinct from those of other behavioral health disciplines. Their training in addressing the needs of the whole person and in wellness and prevention makes them well-situated to lead the effort in integrating health care. Graduate education and clinical training prepare clinical mental health counselors to provide a full range of services for individuals, couples, families, adolescents, and children. Licensure requirements for clinical mental health counselors are equivalent to those for clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists, two other disciplines that require a master's degree for independent status.
A licensed clinical mental health counselor has met or exceeded the following professional qualifications:
- Earned a master's degree in counseling or a closely related mental health discipline
- Completed a minimum of two years post master's clinical work under the supervision of a licensed or certified mental health professional
- Passed a state-developed or national licensure or certification examination
Whether you are dealing with a mental illness or issues navigating life, a professional mental health counselor can help you.
Licensed Marriage And Family Therapist (LMFT)
Marriage and family therapists focus on relationship, marital, and family problems related to mental health. Marriage and family therapists work with couples, parents, children, siblings, etc. They specialize in the family dynamic and tackle interpersonal issues and relationships. The training of a marriage and family therapist is much like that of other mental health professionals, requiring a master's level education in mental health and clinical supervision hours, which arethen followed by a clinical exam.
Distinctive from a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) and a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT or MFT) is a rigorously trained mental health care professional who believes that a wide range of individual problems must be understood within the context of their family and social environments. Referred to as a Systems Therapist, Marriage and Family Therapists help treatmental and emotional struggles. Whether the client is an individual, a couple, or a family, the goal is to change problematic, repetitive interactions that either contribute or continue to allow the cycle of repetitive problems.
A family orientation, coupled with rigorous training requirements, makes LMFTs uniquely qualified to provide mental health services. LMFTs are trained in various modes of therapy in order to prepare them to work with individuals, families, couples, and groups. The training of LMFTs includes live supervision by experienced LMFTs, which is unique among the mental health disciplines.
Marriage and family therapy is often a cost-effective, short-term, and results-oriented form of treatment. Clients report high satisfaction with marriage and family therapists, experiencing significant improvements in interpersonal relationships, emotional well-being, and physical health.
Clinical Psychologist (Ph.D. Or PsyD)
A clinical psychologist is a mental health professional who has received a doctoral degree. However, they cannot prescribe medication because their doctorate is not a medical degree. Like other mental health professionals, clinical psychologists are trained in the assessment, diagnosis, and therapeutic practice.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have received advanced training and education in mental health and psychiatric disorders. Psychiatrists typically focus on medication management by prescribing psychotropic medication. Psychiatrists will meet with patients on a monthly basis, but most do not offer counseling services. Instead, you can expect to meet with a psychologist for your therapy and a psychiatrist for any medication. Psychiatrists can still provide traditional mental health treatment and talk therapy, and many do; but it is recommended that you speak with your psychiatrist directly if that is what you are seeking from your relationship with them.
What Should I Do To Prepare For Counseling And Mental Health Treatment?
Having the right knowledge about who to consult can be extremely beneficial, but it is only useful when you are prepared for counseling and come in ready to tackle your treatment. Here are some useful tips that will make it easier for you to enter a therapeutic relationship
Determine What Your Symptoms Are
Getting the right help starts with understanding what you are dealing with and who you should be looking for. If you are currently faced with stressful life situations that you may need guidance for, a general therapist or counselor will be able to guide you through your situations. If, however, you are dealing with a mental illness, you are going to need a specialist who is trained to handle your disorder. Learning more about your symptoms and what they mean for you can make it simpler to find the person who is best suitable for your needs.
Be Open-Minded To Receiving Treatment
Therapy may not work for everyone, and one major factor that results in ineffective therapy is an unwillingness to accept treatment. If you are resistant to accepting the course of treatment that your therapist recommends, you don't believe that therapy is going to work, or you are unwilling to let your therapist explore some of the things that may be contributing to your mental illness, you are not going to get much out of therapy. Make sure to come with an open mind and allow yourself to welcome change and help rather than running from it.
Be Ready With Questions
Your therapist, like any other doctor, needs to be right for you in order to be the most effective. Before you attend therapy, you should have a list of questions prepared for your therapist. For example, you could ask them:
- What are your qualifications and relevant experience?
- How do you go about treating my specific disorder?
- What types of clients have you had in the past with similar problems?
- What does an average session look like?
Anything that you feel needs to be addressed during the first session should be written down and ready to go. This is also an opportune time to determine not only if your therapist is qualified to help you, but whether they arethe right fit for you, as well. Therapy is far more effective if the person you are receiving services from is an individual you can connect with and look forward to speaking with.
Do you feel like you're ready to start counseling? Armed with the tips and knowledge above, you can find the right person for you.
Reaching Out To Your Chosen Specialist Online
Studies show that online therapy can be a useful form of treatment for a broad array of symptoms arising out of mental health issues. In one broad-based review, the benefits of online therapy were evaluated. Researchers aggregated results from over 90 different studies—including almost 10,000 participants—on issues ranging from panic and anxiety to smoking cessation to weight loss. Researchers concluded that online counseling was as effective as in-person methods when treating anxiety and depression, and could be a useful form of treatment for many issues.
As outlined above, online therapy is there for you when you are ready to seek one of several different types of counseling. With BetterHelp, you can access a network of licensed therapists from the comfort and privacy of your own home (or wherever you have an internet connection). The network includes clinical psychologists, marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers, and licensed counselors. They all possess at least three years and 1,000 hours of hands-on experience, and are thoroughly vetted, so you’ll know you’re working with a qualified, licensed professional. A qualified expert can guide you on the journey to better mental health. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing different issues.
"In only one month of therapy with Michal, I was able to discover a lot of aspects of myself. She was skillful in asking all the right questions and targeting the core issues and problems. The video sessions were very comforting, I felt connected immediately, and the conversations were well rounded, focused, and efficient. We managed to cover all of my main concerns. Moreover, Michal provided me with extra material, tools, and techniques to rely on when I am experiencing difficulties, and those techniques are already changing my everyday life. I feel very fortunate that I had the chance to work with Michal."
"Heather is very easy to talk to and very sincere. She patiently listened to me describe what I felt was such a multi-layered, complex situation that I feared I'd never be able to find my way out of. However, she was able to very quickly identify the underlying problem at the heart of it all. I feel less overwhelmed, more in control of my life & my relationships. I know that I can reach out to her if I find myself struggling, at any time between scheduled appointments. And I complete every appointment feeling less anxious, more hopeful for my future, & better able to accomplish the things I'd been too overwhelmed to do previously. I have told family members & friends about my satisfaction with BetterHelp, as a service that provides ease (being able to work with my counselor from home & not worrying I'll have to cancel an appointment if health issues flare) & is a wonderful value for the extremely reasonable monthly fee. My counselor checks in with me on an almost daily basis, which provides a reassurance just knowing she's there if I need her. I have seen a handful of counselors in the past, and they were all very kind, but I did not feel confident in their actual ability to help. This is not the case with Heather. I believe her treatment plan is on point, realistic, and will be effective. Most of all, I feel that I will be in a much better place mentally/emotionally and in my close relationships as a result of the work I am doing with Heather."
Being more aware of what therapy is, what it entails, and who is involved makes it easier for you to seek it out and get more out of it. If you want to learn about who you can expect to work with during the treatment process, use the guide above to break down the most common experts and what they specialize in. Once you have a better understanding of who you can go to, you can start strengthening your own mental health.
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